Sunday, March 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Few Russians Want to Identify as Putin Wants Them To, Survey Suggests

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 17 – More than 90 percent of ethnic Russians taking part in an online survey do not want to identify as “Rossiyane,” the non-ethnic civic identity President Vladimir Putin has been promoting as the primary self-designator for citizens of the Russian Federation, preferring instead to identify as ethnic Russians or members of other nationalities.

            This survey does not necessarily reflect opinion in the country as a whole because only those who visited this site had a chance to participate and those who voted were self-selected, but it is an indication that the Kremlin faces an uphill fight in its efforts to get citizens of the Russian Federation to adopt a civic rather than an ethnic identity (

            Between March 12 and March 14, visitors to the Novy Region site were asked where “you agree to become a ‘Rossiyanin’ [a non-ethnic designation for a citizen of the Russian Federation] as a representative of ‘a unique [non-ethnic] Russian nation?" Over that period, 3308 people responded.

            They were offered four choices: “No, I am an [ethnic] Russian and proud of that,” “Yes, I am a [non-ethnic] ‘Rossiyanin’,” “No, I am a citizen of the Russian Federation of another nationality,” and “This question does not matter to me.” 87.58 percent said they were ethnic Russians and proud to be that, just over 4.41 percent said they were “Rossiyane,” 3.42 percent said they were members of other nationalities, and 4.59 percent said the question didn’t matter.

            The notion of a non-ethnic Russian nation has its roots in Yeltsin’s time, but recently Putin has made its promotion a major goal of his presidency.  The idea is enshrined in the Strategy of the State Nationality Policy of Russia for the Period Up to 2025 that he confirmed at the end of last year.

            Moreover, in his discussion of that document at a meeting of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations on February 19, the Russian president said that “our primary task consists in strengthening the harmony and accord in our multi-national [non-ethnic] Russian society so that people regardless of their ethnic or religious memberships will recognize themselves as citizens of a single country” and members of “a unique [non-ethnic] Russian nation.”

            Many commentators have suggested that what Putin is seeking to promote is simply a new version of “the Soviet people,” a term communist leaders used.  But there is an important difference: Their ideologists never called the Soviet people “a nation” [natsiya] which is ethnic by definition but rather “a people” [narod] and a supra-national formation.
            Not surprisingly, ethnic Russian nationalists have been the most critical, arguing that this Putin innovation is directed more against them than against the non-Russian nations of the Russian Federation. 

            Dmitry Dyomushkin, the leader of the “Russians” political movement, told Novy region that “from the point of view of a scientific definition of ‘nation,’” Putin’s idea is simply “absurd. A nation is given by God and has among other things a biological component and is not simply a community of language and citizenship.”
            “For example,” he said, “if I study English, I do not automatically become an Englishman, just as if you study German, you do not become a German.”  The same thing is true regarding citizenship. “A Turk or a Russian who receives a passport a a citizen of Germany does not become a German; he remains a Turk or a Russian.”
            Before Putin launched his current drive, Dyomushkin said, “only the Bolsheviks had tried to include everyone in some kind of Soviet community, but as time proved, we were Russians, Chuvash, Tatars, Chechens, Ingush, and so on, and thus we have remained.” There is “nothing shameful in this,” and “all efforts to create a new artificial nation are condemned to failure.”
            Konstantin Krylov, who heads the Russian Social Movement, agreed. He told the news service that Putin’s ideas represents nothing more than “the latest form of the de-nationalization of [ethnic] Russians” because “the other peoples [of the country] never will consider themselves representatives of some [non-ethnic] Russian nation.”
            They will view such a definition as an insult, and “they will consider themselves Chechens, Udmurts, Tatars, and so on, because that is who they are.” This experiment, like the Soviet one, Krylov said, is being performed in the first instance on the ethnic Russian peope and is intended to “deprive it of its national identity.”

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